∂or two decades, Charles Saatchi has been the Daddy-O of London’s contemporary art world, buying young artists’ work by the truckload and using his adman wealth to turn nobodies into celebrities. Throughout the late Eighties and Nineties, while he was playing the patron—for Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, the Chapman brothers and myriad others—his then wife, Kay Hartenstein Saatchi, a blond, honey-voiced art lover from Little Rock, Arkansas, took over the role of Mom. In addition to scouting for fresh talent and hanging scores of shows, she’d invite the young artists home for supper at the couple’s six-story Chelsea house, encourage them and generally pick up where her famously grumpy and reclusive husband left off.
“I quite like mothering them,” says the 54-year-old Saatchi, who divorced Charles in 2001 after he left her for his current wife, TV chef Nigella Lawson. “The whole point of contemporary art is that you get to know the artists, and you watch them grow up.”
Since that well-publicized split in 2001 (Lawson was newly widowed, and her late husband, John Diamond, had been Charles’s dear friend), Saatchi has operated behind the scenes, organizing small student shows, writing for Art Review magazine and working on photographic portraits at the studio she once shared with Tierney Gearon—one of her early discoveries—in Chelsea. But Saatchi gets her real thrills from nurturing talent, and earlier this year she returned to the art game with “Anticipation,” a sellout show of work by 26 students from the big London art schools. The show raised more than $200,000, enabling one artist to quit her job as a secretary and rent a studio and another to fund her master’s degree at Chelsea College of Art and Design. The show—another version of which Saatchi plans to stage next May along with her collaborators, Catriona Warren, former editorial director of Art Review, and Flora Fairbairn, a London curator and art consultant—drew guests including Paula Rego, Tate chief Sir Nicholas Serota and dealers Jay Jopling and David Risley. (Saatchi invited her ex-husband, but he was a no-show.)